Perhaps the Dutch organisers of World Cup III didn’t sacrifice enough orange t-shirts to the local water gods, but karma was certainly against them on day one of Rotterdam’s latest adventure in staging big rowing events. We joke that FISA likes practising the time-trial format to make sure crews understand it, but the 45-degree head/crosswind which afflicted the normally tail-wind Willem-Alexander III Roeibaan course on Friday 12th July was no artificial invention.
It would have been monstrously unfair to run six-lane racing in the conditions, so FISA and the teams set to in earnest with a one-lane format which tested the official time-trial qualification system to the limit. The deal is crews starting in order of their drawn heats, all in lane 1, from an aligned start at 30-second intervals. Quite some feat of management, and it was no surprise it started to lag a little as the afternoon went on.
How we got to this point was circuitous: originally the plan had been for racing to start at its normal early-doors and run through a whole morning. That was scotched by the appearance of a ‘donder en bliksen‘ storm which first lurked threateningly over nearby areas and forced all crews off the water before the start of racing, and then dropped full-bore right on top of the hapless rowing community’s rapidly-drenched heads at lunchtime. The result was a 2:30pm start, which meant the rowing falling prey to an increasing and increasingly cross wind for the whole of racing, and led to the time-trial decision.
The problem is this: FISA seeds which crews are in which heats, but not their lanes. That’s why time-trials are suggested for unfair conditions in the opening heats, but not later on where fast crews have earned themselves the best lanes. And yes, it’s going to be fairly cross again on Saturday and Sunday, though with an increasing degree of head-wind. Lane 1 is going to be the favourite. Amusingly the athlete survey being carried out at Rotterdam is asking about athlete lane selection, which the knowledgeable will remember was tried out for the first time last year.
Anyway, the brutal nature of the instant cut-off in time-trials means that there is only one possible strategy: zoom as fast as you possibly can the entire way down the course. The top twelve in big events were decided with a mixture of heat winners and fastest losers, while the rest of the crews were sent instantly to C, D or even E finals without further chances. See full results here.
Yet that was not the end of the trouble in Rotterdam. The US women’s quad had a boat-stopping crab (reason unknown) which left them having to move into lane 2 to avoid the men’s quads barrelling down the course. They paddled home slowly with Heidi Robbins sitting out, but more mishaps occurred two races later.
This was the second men’s quad heat, in which Australia registered a time more than a minute off what you would expect, and Germany were also slow. The error was picked up after racing finished, and eventually some hours later the unfortunate Brits, who had apparently bagged a qualifying slot, were relegated to the repechage after all, Germany getting the auto-pick after theirs and Australia’s times were upgraded to beat the British. The GPS data on their race looked frankly bizarre and ought to have been noticed earlier.
After all that the actual racing seemed a side-show, even though the instantaneous executions of the time-trial format left a few surprising names languishing off the medal track. The M1x C-final will feature GBR1 (Tom Barras) and Germany’s Diamonds winner Oliver Zeidler; the Argentinian Henley M2- winners Diaz & Haack beat their ‘first’ pair, and GBR’s M8+ got a tidy revenge on New Zealand for the HRR win, simultaneously beating Germany over a 2km course for the first time this year. Now they just have to do it again side-by-side, which is a whole new kettle of psychological fish. Mostly, however, the top seeds went quickest and bore out the form guide.
Keep up with our galleries, videos and daily reports from Rotterdam this weekend here.